When people think of the beautiful beaches of Thailand, the most popular names to pop up are Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan-where the famous Full Moon Party occurs every month. These are fantastic islands, but what if you happen to be on a time crunch or a limited budget?
Well, just four hours away is an amazing island with gorgeous white sand beaches, crystal clear blue water and plenty of places to stay to fit any traveler’s budget. Koh Samet or Koh Samed has everything you need to enjoy a wonderful holiday without having to waste too much time on the road. Koh Samet is the preferred island getaway for local Bangkok residents, it has all the perks of the more popular islands with a different kind of charm.
Make sure to wear shorts or a swimsuit because you’ll be stepping off the speedboat into knee high water. The island is small enough that you can easily walk from one side to the other and up the coast to all the beaches in about an hour.
We stayed at one of the oldest resorts on the island called Tubtim Resort (http://www.tubtimresort.com). This resort has your basic hut and fans for 1000 baht a night with a hot shower or AC room with a fan and breakfast buffet for 2500 baht a night with a hot shower. We opted for the AC room with a fan, but found that we turned on the AC once, during the 7 days we stayed there. The huts are not right on the beach, but close enough that the ocean sang us to sleep each night. The rooms have a small flat screen TV, memory foam bed, a couple of small tables and shelves and a small refrigerator. The bathrooms are not fabulous, but are clean enough for the price you are paying. Housekeeping will come if you leave your key at reception at the beginning of the day. Overall, for the price we paid, we were happy with the room. The restaurant was adequate, their curry was tasty and tom yum was creamier than I usually have it, but still quite delicious. The prices were what you would expect from a 3-star resort, 110 baht for chicken pad thai, a bit expensive, but not by much. The breakfast buffet was a bit disappointing, but the made to order omelets were great. Overall, I would recommend Tubtim Resort to those looking for a quick island getaway for those short week vacation trips.
The easiest way to get there is to take a mini-bus (van) from Ekamai bus station through one of the tour companies that will drop you directly off at pier in Ban Phe. This ride usually takes between 2-3 hours depending on the traffic. From there, it’s just a short 15-20 minute speedboat ride depending on where your resort is on the island. P.N. Travel (+66.0.3865.3307 – sadly they do not have a website) charges 200 baht one-way for the mini-bus from Bangkok to Ban Phe and then 350 baht one-way for the speedboat. Make sure to wear shorts or a swimsuit because you’ll be stepping off the speedboat into knee high water. The island is small enough that you can easily walk from one side to the other and up the coast to all the beaches in about an hour. Total time from Ekamai bus station in Bangkok to your resort will be about 4 hours total, which is much better than an overnight bus, expensive plane ticket or a train-then bus-then ferry-then tuk tuk to your resort.
Silent beach has a special rule though, no drinking or smoking. This was our favorite beach on the eastern side of the island because it almost felt as if you had washed up on shore to a deserted island--almost.
The island has several magnificent beaches to explore and they are all within walking distance for the most part. The northern part of the island is the most developed, with the southern part of the island reserved for high-end resorts. The eastern side of the island experiences the most wind, which brings stronger currents and waves. The western side of the island is sheltered and peaceful, which makes it ideal for chilling out and relaxing as the bay at Ao Prao beach provides almost a glass-like texture to the water. Ao Prao only has 3 resorts on its beach, the beach chairs are reserved for resort guests only, but the left side of the beach is open to the public. There is a great restaurant (The Buzz) though that provides comfy bean bags and an excellent view of the sunset.
The best beach during the day if you want to avoid loud music and craziness that is usually associated with island paradises is the beach Ao Phai or next to Ao Phai. It is deemed “silent beach” and is run by a local lady who provides beach chairs. Silent beach has a special rule though, no drinking or smoking. The beach vendors still come through, but are less aggressive and seem to only stop if you are really interested in what they have to offer. This was our favorite beach on the eastern side of the island because it almost felt as if you had washed up on shore to a deserted island–almost.
If you look on Tripadvisor, you’ll see that Samed Villa resort restaurant is listed as the number 1 restaurant on the island for price and quality. We had to try it, along with the Funky Monkey. Both restaurants live up to their billing. It might sound strange, but after 6 days of Thai food, we had to try the restaurant at Le Vimarn Cottages & Spa. If you want some mind-blowing gourmet Italian food, this is a must go to restaurant. Everything is handmade and fresh. Simply put, it’s the most unusual place to find an extraordinary Italian restaurant.
Koh Samet is a fabulous place for a short holiday excursion. Would I want to stay on the island for longer than a week, probably not, but for a week or less, this island is the perfect place to unwind. So next time you think about that Southeast Asian holiday, don’t forget Koh Samet.
Written and photographed by Scott McLaughlin